Wed | Feb 19, 2020

The Music Diaries | No limit to Nat King Cole's many musical talents

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2018 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Nat King Cole
Nat 'King' Cole

The title "the daughter of", in reference to Natalie Cole, and which was highlighted in last week's article, has become one of the talking points of readers since the publication of the article.

The main question asked was, "What is it about Nat Cole's career that was so outstanding to cause his persona to be so indelibly etched on his daughter, to the extent that she was consistently referred to as 'the daughter of'?

It is a question that we intend to answer in the next few lines, as we look at the achievements of a man, who many thought had more credentials than any other in the entertainment business.

Born in Montgomery, Alabama on St Patrick's Day (March 17) 1919, Nathaniel Adams Coles (Nat King Cole) became exposed to music at an early age, as almost all members of his family were involved in music, one way or another.

His mother, Perlina, was an accomplished pianist; his older brother Eddie, fronted his own band; his younger brother Freddy, was an accomplished vocalist and pianist, while his father was the pastor of a Baptist Church.

Perlina, coached her children in the art of piano playing, and Nat, seemingly the most eager of all, caught on quickly. His older brother Eddie, was more into boogie-woogie secular music and Nat close-marked him, following closely in his footsteps.

The close association between the brothers led to Nat, doing his first recording - a piano piece called, Honey Hush, in July 1936. He created history by becoming the first 15-year-old, to form his own band while still in high school.

Nat soon dropped out of high school to go into music full-time. His dream was to create his own Jazz ensemble and to become a great jazz pianist, full stop.

To this end, Cole created The King Cole Trio, the following year, and in almost no time, was booked out for engagements all over Chicago. His popularity grew to such astronomical levels, that at one point, he was rated America's top jazz pianist, and one of the country's best-known entertainers. And come to think of if, Nat had not yet ventured into a singing career, the area in which he was best known - absolutely unbelievable!

He got into vocalising just by chance, after being pressured by various club owners, business people and music managers, who thought that standing before an audience with his amazing voice, would earn him more money than sitting in front of a piano. Nat himself, was not amused, as he has always maintained that he was not a singer, and the move by these people were derailing his plans. But when he sang Sweet Lorraine one night at a nightclub and turned the place upside-down, he might have begun to convince himself that, that was the route to go.

Cole's amazing run of hits as a vocalist began with, Straighten Up And Fly Right - a 1943 release with the trio for Capitol Records. He continued in this vein for a while, until his next turning point - his recordings with a stringed orchestra.

The first was Nature Boy, in 1947. But a year earlier, he surrounded his trio with strings to create the perennial Christmas Song. Nature Boy, brought him widespread recognition and widened his appeal to white audiences. Nat followed up with several top 10 hits compiled by Billboard, which was not yet in the Hot 100 format. They included Mona Lisa, Too Young, Unforgettable, Smile, Pretend, A Blossom Fell and Ramblin Rose.




Throughout the remainder of the 1950s Nat Cole continued to accumulate romantic hits that sold in the millions worldwide. The King of Love Ballads, as he became known, was once said to have drawn emotional tears from Queen Elizabeth II, during one of his mesmerising and hypnotic deliveries while on a visit to Buckingham Palace. In the meantime, he became one of, if not the first African-American to host his own television show in 1956.

A multi-linguist singer, Nat, recorded songs in English, Spanish, French and Latin. The album Cole EspaÒol recorded in romantic old Havana in 1958, became a classic example of Nat's magical Spanish expression, as he sang the cuts, Cachito and Quizas, Quizas, Quizas.

His unparalleled, multifarious and multitudinous achievements was further highlighted by his starring roles in the motion pictures - China Gate, Night of The Quarter Moon and St Louis Blues in which he played the role of the jazz composer, W.C. Handy.

After such extravagance, the word 'versatility' becomes a thin and battered term to describe a man with such immeasurable flexibility.

In the end, we can well understand why Natalie, found it so difficult to relieve herself of the title, 'The Daughter of', which she detested in her later years.